The Lofty Spirituality of The Old Testament: Romans 4:8 –15

By Roger Salter
February, 2016

The lofty spirituality of the Old Testament is illustrated in the rite or sacrament of circumcision. This divine imposition represented the highest obligations of man accompanying the supreme blessings of eternal redemption freely granted by God. Circumcision is of the utmost significance in its Abrahamic context – not so much as the minor operation on the male foreskin but as a physical token of the interior operations of divine grace within the human heart.

Circumcision committed man to obedience and holiness. He was to replicate in his person and life the perfection of the moral law; to maintain the image of God in human nature and behaviour. Emphatically under Moses circumcision imparted the conviction of sin. There was no-one capable of divinely required purity and perfection. Pronouncedly through the preceding experience of Abraham circumcision denoted the features of the way of salvation which even the waywardness of Israel, struggling under the law, could not annul. Both Abraham and Moses were men of the message of grace. Abraham learned that grace was unconditional. Moses taught that it could not be earned. Each taught grace via varying nuances. The Promise prevailed through the ministries of both men. Abraham preached the sovereign freedom and freeness of grace. Moses annihilated the human assumption that salvation could be merited. Promise succeeded in the salvation of man. Performance attained nothing but increased condemnation. Law, in Mosaic conviction, was a cul-de-sac on the precipice of perdition. Electing love was exhibited in Abraham and he displayed the raw material of the Covenant of Grace to be moulded to perfection by the Lord Jesus.

The initial stages in the rescue of man are regeneration and justification. These benefits were sealed to Abraham in his circumcision. The commencement of the purification of his nature and the amendment of his reputation from that of a renegade individual to a righteous person. Works were excluded from Abraham’s divine acceptance. His worth was not a factor. He could lodge his confidence in the work of God – regeneration and justification, signalled to him in the sign of circumcision, the certification of his salvation, but not of its essence. Circumcision encapsulated the greatest blessings that God would bestow upon his chosen ones i.e. Renewed nature (new birth), and Right relationship with God. Circumcision was no mean thing in its meaning, although it was no way equivalent to the interior works of grace – the act of renovation and the gift of faith. In effect it pointed prophetically to the salvation wrought by Christ. We share happily in Luther’s technical anachronism – the bold license to assert that in the final outcome Abraham was a “Christian” for we Christians are saved in the same manner as he. We may be allowed to be guilty of this sanctified incorrectness.

When Christ was circumcised he took upon himself the role of our Saviour (whose day Abraham saw throughout his life of revelation and responsive faith. John 8:56). Our Lord Jesus was pledged to exact obedience to the law for us and in our stead. The burden has been lifted from us. He made amends through perfect obedience to the law. We are saved by works alright – not our own but Christ’s. In recognition of “the end of works arrangement” circumcision is but one example of the lofty spirituality of the Old Testament. The New Testament cannot surpass the Abrahamic concept of grace but it spells it out exhaustively as divine favour wrought through Christ. The Old Testament is top level revelation now come to its own because its truth is confirmed and fulfilled by the Lord Jesus and it discloses precious information concerning him in uniquely captivating ways. Anticipation yields it own thrills.

True Old Testament saints lived on a high plane in their knowledge of and communion with God. Several reputable scholars posit the question as to whether many of us in this latest dispensation participate in an equal intensity of fellowship with the Lord in spite of our greater privileges. We may be witnesses to fulfilment of divine promises but not recipients of the fullness of the divine presence. Our forebears’ consciousness of God was acute. Their experience of grace was profound. Their faith was Messianic – focussed on the Redeemer to come. Their attainments as believers were remarkable. The psalms bespeak these facts with eloquence and clarity. If only we possessed their sensibilities and assurances. What companions to our struggling souls the psalmists happen to be. And how winsomely the Messiah speaks to us through them concerning his vicarious sufferings and victories gained in our interest.

Unconsciously and surely unintentionally, the bulk of Christendom is dismissive of the importance and richness of the Old Testament. It is the fault of leadership and the omission of scholarship not to extol the study and enjoyment of the entirety of Holy Scripture. Jesus refers us to it and that is sufficient authoritative commendation, and the apostles build upon it, but naively many churches and people pride themselves on being “New Testament” believers. From whence did the New Testament spring in its message and main concepts? The Testaments lock together and Jesus Christ is the Link. They are two instalments of his story and the united product of his inspiration (1 Peter 1:10-12). We are to understand the significance of circumcision spiritually comprehended, and to undergo its transformation of nature and status which is identical to the implications of baptism. “In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead (Colossians 2:11-12).

Circumcision betokens the God-given qualifications for eternal life – a righteousness required by God for pardon and acceptance and a compatibility for fellowship with God provided through spiritual renovation. The badge of the faithful from the former covenant identifies those most highly favoured by God in ancient times through his Son. That tells us that Old Testament religion is not to be despised but emulated and even transcended by our more direct perception and grasp of Christ. The Old Testament is of infinite value in enabling us to attain the summit of union with the Jesus. We must climb OT steps hand in hand with those folk who craved the coming of the Messiah. Then we are at the stage of ascent to where the vision of the completion of the divine purpose is possible in an informed and intelligent manner. Jesus doesn’t just emerge on the scene suddenly without background preparation and credentials but from the deliberate and sustained programme of God in which predictions and clues were provided.

There is a wonderful consonance and continuity between the Testaments and the principle of unity is Jesus Christ. All the saints of every era, BC and AD find their salvation in the same Saviour in the same way – faith in his wonderful Person and the sufficiency of his work on our behalf outlined in its completeness in the petitions of the Litany which we can make our own: By the mystery of your holy Incarnation, by your holy birth and circumcision; by your baptism, fasting, and temptation, Good Lord, deliver us. By your agony and bloody sweat, by your cross and passion; by your precious death and burial; by your glorious resurrection and ascension; and by the coming of the Holy Spirit, Good Lord, deliver us.

The Rev. Roger Salter is an ordained Church of England minister where he had parishes in the dioceses of Bristol and Portsmouth before coming to Birmingham, Alabama to serve as Rector of St. Matthew’s Anglican Church

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